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     The road eastward from Dubai leads through low dunes and dusty roadside plains. The large oasis of Al Aweer exists by the grace of much underground water, which gives life to an extensive forest of ghaf trees (Prosopis cineraria) that must have existed in this location for many hundreds of years. This is where many farms have been developed. Not all of these farms grow fruit and vegetables. The one that is the goal of this day’s outing is a farm where horses are bred – the very special horses of Arabia.

     The sunlight is filtered through many layers of branches drooping down from the huge ghaf trees along the driveway. Even in the heat of summer, the air seems fresh and the breeze cool. A soft thudding noise is heard towards the left, where an elegant brown horse canters around a dirt track that borders a lush green oval. Ahead an expanse of meadow fringed with large oleander bushes reminds you of more temperate climates. It is hard to believe we are in the middle of the sandy dunes near Al Aweer.

     The place we are visiting is the horse-breeding farm of Khalid bin Khalifa Juma Al Nabooda, who keeps horses and breeds them for the sheer pleasure of it. With 156 horses in his care, he must be a very pleased and lucky man. From the look of it, the horses are very pleased too. Their coats shimmer with a healthy gloss, their eyes are tranquil and lively at the same time, their behaviour is exemplary. It is as if they know that this is a place where they are safe, where people care and horses are the centre of attention.

     Mr. Al Nabooda calls it his hobby – breeding and promoting the local bred Arabian horse, which had been lost to the Arab world for some time. Not that Arabian horses need a lot of promoting. Known throughout the world for their intelligence, speed and endurance, these horses are to Arabia what tulips are to Holland.

What is the difference between an Arabian horse and thoroughbreds? The farm’s resident vet Dr. Thejasvi, explains:

     Thoroughbreds have many bloodlines, including some Arabian. But all pure Arabian horses can be traced back to three stallions: The Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Barb. The horses at Al Aweer are mainly from stock of the latter.

     Arabian horses are quite different from the more numerous thoroughbreds. Their anatomy differs in that they have one rib less and one less vertebra in the tail. Their heads are quite small and finely chiselled, while their short back and muscular hindquarters are also a unique feature of the Arabian horse.

     They are very hardy, excelling for instance in the endurance races that have become so popular of late.  The horses at Al Aweer are bred by artificial insemination with frozen or chilled semen imported from the UK and the USA. The procedure is carried out in a special building on the premises by the resident vet. The success rate of this artificial way of propagation is very good here – some 70%. This year 27 foals were born, with the usual balance between males and females of fifty/fifty. Although Al Aweer farm was started in 1991, the breeding of Arabian horses did not commence till 1995.

     The farm keeps four stallions of its own that cover some of their own mares and are also lent out to stud mares from other farms in the region. One of these, a famous Derby winner called Naum is an eleven-year-old Bay, who is from one of the most famous Russian bloodlines for racing.

     We walk slowly through the impeccable yards, with over 60 boxes. Small groups of guinea fowl and ducks potter around between the boxes, from each of which a horse looks out curiously.

     All horses are fed from imported pellets containing wheat bran, oats and barley. They obviously thrive on this. One row of boxes holds the geriatric horses such as one dappled white female, called Hibattallah, is 27 years old, and Fantasia who is 30 years old! What a wonderful thing that they can spend the last years of their life here in comfort and ease!

The farm has 112 air-conditioned stables. One large high-domed building, cooled by huge AC’s and ceiling fans, has box after box with mares and foals. The foals take their cue from their mothers and are curious and only a little bit shy towards the visiting strangers. Their velvety noses push against our hands, while they sniff our scent with their huge nostrils. They will start being trained when they are two years old. Until that time they will exercise together on the tracks, learning to run in a group. Most of them will go for racing on the flats. Some will be endurance racers. So far no Arabian horses have been used for jumping or showing. The horses have unusual names, given to them by their owner: Fawzia du Roc and her foal Af Muntaha, Vilissa, Saralouve and the magnificent Al Hanouf.

     All horses are regularly exercised in a horse-walker. This looks a bit like a merry-go-round. Inside a circular fence stands a large wheel that is being driven by a motor at a constant speed. Between the spokes of the wheel there is room for just one horse. Nudged by the spoke at their backs, the horses walk at a sedate speed within their section for 45 minutes every day. Each horse over two years old, except the pregnant mares, also goes for a swim in the custom built covered swimming pool that shimmers between the palm trees. The pool is 75 meters long and is a wonderful tool to build up muscle and to treat leg injuries. Besides the regular swims in the pool, all horses are hosed down daily in a special bathing stall. No wonder they all have such glossy coats! In the summer it is also a great way to cool down.

There are nine large grass paddocks, where mares and foals can spend the cooler months.

All the paddocks and tracks are fenced with echo-wood, a recycled plastic material that is very durable and at the same time soft to prevent injuries in case of accidental collision.

Dr. Thejasvi provides veterinary care in minor cases, while major surgery is done at the Dubai Equine Hospital.

 The horses and their caretakers (a few dozen grooms, riders and farriers) live a peaceful life together going through their daily routine in an oasis of green trees and pastures. For some of the horses a day may come in the future when they thunder past the grandstand at Nadd al Sheba, towards the winning post, spurred on by the enthusiasm of thousands of spectators. These purebred Arabian horses will win gold cups and cash prizes, fame and fortune, until they can retire once more to the place of their youth, to spend their last days in the dappled light beneath the ghaf trees. Maybe… 


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